Last summer was really hard on me. It was my 15th summer in a row of putting my children ahead of myself. Since I have five of them, in my case this means having my own needs in sixth place (at best). I’ve dreaded summer vacations for years: that suddenly, on a tepid, slow and quiet 23rd of July, I drown in the never-ending half-hour cycle of feeding the underage, and inventing and realising new ideas to lift their boredom. And now comes the pandemic lockdown, and with it the advice: “Just think of it as a vacation!”
It’s not only the kids who are bored, I am also thoroughly bored at this point of being Spiderman, playing hide and seek, standing in the knee-deep water of a lake with an arched back, twice a day for 3 hours, and of other ones of my least favourite sides of having small children.
It all gets complicated with the fact that all the while, I really like spending time with my kids. It’s not for no reason that I have so many of them; it’s because being a mother is one of the things I was born to do. I enjoy it, it gives me energy, makes me laugh, warms my heart, and lifts me off the ground. I like putting my children ahead of myself, and most of the time, this doesn’t make me feel like a victim.
What suits me best now that even my youngest has turned 5, is the balance we have during the school year. In the first half of the day, while the children are at different institutions, I can work, for instance, because work is another thing I really love doing. A day that makes me feel good now is one where I can spend 6-7 hours with my children, but where I also have another 3-4 hours to work, along with the various household chores of course (cooking, shopping for groceries, doing laundry etc., at least 2 hours a day), sprinkled throughout the day. This is the balance that’s upset in summer.
I spent the first good many years of motherhood happily immersed in this imbalance, but 16 years of being a mother is a long time. Being a mother, and only a mother 24/7 for 10 weeks straight is too much for me ‹at this point›. I want to be with them, and want to be without them: two contradictory desires, like two arrows inside, pushing in the opposite directions.
After last year’s lousy summer, I was left with a giant fear: another one of these two months, and that’s the end of me. But instead of lying on this pile of shit like a stricken-down fly, I decided there and then to change things. I had two plans: one, I decided to figure out where and how we could go travelling, so we could escape the monotony of the routines. Two, I made a resolution to start doing innner work, to re-wire the things in me that keep producing these summers. I got started on both, and I thought I would have a couple more months to reach my goals.
And now comes this “early vacation,” except it’s not even summer. Instead, it’s a crisis, without an end in sight. Just waiting for it to end in a situation like this, as I learnt from the never-ending tribulations of my mother (Agnes Gereb) our life force is quenched by the frustrating inability to tell when the end will come, and what this end will look like. Could it turn out that instead of the dreaded 2 months at home, now we’ll have 4 or 5, with even less freedom than before? /We live in an apartment where we have less than 15 m2 per person, far below the 25m2 recommended by the WHO. We don’t have a summer house, nor grandparents in the countryside./ What can I do? How will I survive this?
After all that I’ve described so far, this is the point where the logical conclusion would be to wrap myself up in a sniveling cry in a corner, complaining how shitty and difficult this is for me, how I hate this, and how this will never end, and somebody save me. Well that I don’t have time for. As the Hungarian-American psychologist and Holocaust survivor Edith Eva Eger, the author of The Choice, writes, the question the survivors ask themselves is not “Why me?”, but rather “What’s my way forward?”
I’ve hit a wall, and I’ve decided: it’s not going to stop me. I’ll take my cue from my two 16 year-old sons who practice parkour: when they see a wall, they see in it an opportunity, not an obstacle. My question to myself at this point is “How far can I jump from the thing that seems to be standing in my way?
Just as for my sons, the joy of doing parkour doesn’t come from the people watching, the goal of my own jump is also not that it get a high score from the judges. My goal is to have the experience inside that I dared an obstacle, that practice gets me there, that experiences get me to different feelings and states of mind. A jump can be beautiful from the outside, but if it comes with no joy on the inside, then to me it’s pointless. Just as it makes no difference if a jump looks clumsy from the outside, if on the inside, I’m uplifted by the sheer fact that I dared to jump.
The jump itself is an individual achievement, but this doesn’t mean it can’t in some way be good for someone else as well. Here I will be writing about my own, personal experiences, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t be useful to others.
So there, I’ve made my choice: I’m going to climb up this wall and jump, or tear the wall down and use the bricks to build a house, or learn how to paint on it and I will be Banksy, or who knows what else I will do. The point is, I’m going to dosomething. One of these somethings is writing, this blog, for instance. I will show from day to day how I take care of my soul in the time of the pandemic. What I mean by this is not some abstract, New Agey, purple goo. I will show my inner work and the tools of self-knowledge and self-care I’m using. These will be tangible, concrete things. To grasp them and perhaps to try them for yourself, you will need neither a degree in psychology, nor kids. My motherhood is far from being the only side of me that is engaged by this situation; it engages all my sides: I’m a woman, I’m a partner, I’m a child, I’m a friend, and so many other things.
I’m also a psychologist, and not only on paper, but in my heart of hearts. I believe deeply, and I experience day after day (in myself and with my clients) the wonderful leaps we can take by shaping our internal workings patterns. But believing in it and doing it don’t make jumping more joyful at this point – it still feels damn scary.
(for the translation thanks for my brother, Mate Herner)